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Vanessa Meng '20

Vanessa Meng

Vanessa Meng '20 speaking at Last Collection

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Honorable and beloved Swarthmore faculty and staff, friends and family, of class of 2022, and of 2020, good morning. 

It’s a great honor to speak on behalf of this fateful year, and although we could not all make it here today, I know we are keeping those friends in our hearts as we celebrate. 

During my first collection, I brought up the idea of how some stars that have long gone still leave an impression in our night sky, which is to say no matter how distant we are from one another, the fact that we shared this space and brought our light here is already a blessing. Now, I cannot help but think of constellations, how there are beautiful shapes held together only by stories. 

For as I was reflecting on my time here, I realized that the magic of Swarthmore is the many stories we share with one another, and class of 2020 boy do we have a story that ties us together.

Just as the birds began to sing louder and a warmer breeze promised us of a beautiful senior spring, we all had to let go. Whether it was culminating projects, or club events, or dances or art shows, or talks or plans with friends, gone. In retrospect, I realize we are lucky to have something so good to miss. In its place we saw a world where problems rose to the surface like an oil spill on a river, and in our own lives new hectic plans, and a lot of uncertainty. It was in this time that we made our first steps into our adult lives: the beginning of the end. 

And as Arundhati Roy said, this end is a portal to a new world, and the looming question for us then and, still, now, is what do we want to bring what do we want to leave behind? 

First, I bring the importance of community, for when all was crashing down Swatties held each other up and I was grateful to have had this community to help me. 

I bring courage to speak the truth, and the revolutionary spirit that Swatties taught me. Here people were always pushing my understanding of what the world could be, whether it was how to radically change the food system or how to dismantle the patriarchy. It is here that I found the courage to build a strong moral compass and to live by it.   

I leave behind the reliance on external validation, and learn that validation needs to be built not given. 

I bring the knowledge that a true education is liberating to the self. My professors here taught me concepts that now are inseparable from my own understanding of who I am, which is to say that education is never just of the mind, but also one of the heart and spirit too. 

I leave behind that spiky head of self-doubt.

I bring the wisdom of the importance of meaningful play. Here we went on so many magical adventures, and had so many opportunities to express ourselves through writing, drawing, dancing, playing, discussing what a world it would be if we were in charge. And from this I learned to not measure myself by rules but only by moments of connection, of joy. 

I leave behind the thinking that any real change needs to be big, and learn the power of the small. 

And I bring the lessons of faith and patience that nature taught me here. To attend Swarthmore is to be part of an enchanting landscape, one that dances a different tune every season. Here I learned that every life has its own pace, the largest tree has no fear of letting go it’s entire sense of self for the winter. And what is patience but the bare tree waiting for spring, and what is faith but the care and love that the Earth and arboretum staff gives to this tree, knowing that it will bloom in its time? And so I hope to give myself and those around me this kind of love, understanding that each stage of growth is as worthy as those flowers and fruits. 

And I bring the hope that some day when we look back at the constellation that makes up our class, we will not just see the shape of some ending, but the beginning of a kinder, happier, more beautiful world. 

I want to end by thanking the staff for making this all possible, my professors for giving me all the freedom to explore my ideas, the friends who held me throughout, and my parents for dealing with me and believing in me. Let the stories between us all continue. Thank you. 

Remarks as submitted to Swarthmore College